Spending quarter of a century in the International Tennis Federation gave Dave Miley a unique perspective on tennis at all levels, so it’s hardly a surprise he threw his hat in the ring as a candidate for ITF president.
“The current president is Dave Haggerty,” says Miley.
“I’m running against him. The other two candidates are Anil Khanna, president of Asian Tennis, and Ivo Kaderka, president of Czech Tennis.
“I worked for the ITF for 25 years, running the biggest department in the ITF. It’s a governing body which runs the Davis Cup, Olympic games, and has an income of about 100 million dollars a year.”
The election is tomorrow, but since announcing his candidacy in January, Miley has been on the road - or in the air - travelling to over 60 countries. “I’ve been travelling to listen to federation officials, ATP, WTA , and I’ve continued to travel — a couple of weeks ago I was in six countries in a week — to meet people face-to-face, to listen to what they think about tennis.
“You get to know people and they get to know why you’re doing it, why you’re running for the office. I’m not doing it for the ego but because I think I can do something for tennis.” Miley outlines why he feels tennis is “pretty lost” at the moment.
“It’s very fragmented, everyone’s fighting with each other. That’s why, in my manifesto, I said that I want people to work together for tennis to make it stronger — let’s grow the industry of tennis, which includes ATP, Grand Slams, all of that.
“But the ITF is also a company. Let’s try to make that strong and deliver a return to shareholder nations like Ireland. What I want to do is to stand up for ITF nations because at the moment, the ITF is weak in the face of the Tours.
“Yet, people have to realise the nations of the ITF pay for everything. For player-development, the junior ITF circuit, the entry-level professionals, training for umpires who work at big tournaments.
“But the ITF gets nothing in return apart from criticism, though there would not be an ATP Tour unless the federations were producing the players and providing the structure to get those players through to the top level.
“What I want to articulate is that the current system is not fair. I have a vision of what’s good for tennis and for the ITF, the organisation I’m seeking to represent.”
Miley has received good support: “I believe I’m going to be in the top two in the first round of voting, and that it’ll come down to myself and the American candidate. I have strong support from grand slam nations and I believe I can win.
“I’m trying to come with a fresh vision but the voting is weighted. Big nations have 12 votes, then a level with nine votes, seven, three and one. Ireland has three votes, for instance.
“I’m very happy Ireland is supporting me — Minister Shane Ross has sent on a nice note — and Sarah Keane of the Olympic Council of Ireland has also been very supportive.”
As with any election campaign, Miley has to manage his votes.
“I’ve got to appeal to the ‘big’ countries but I have to appeal to the one- and three-vote countries as well.
“I’ve travelled in my time to 150 countries, I speak English, French and Spanish - the three official languages of the ITF — and I ran the biggest department of the ITF. So because of that I was involved in women’s, wheelchair, junior, senior - even anti-doping was in my area, so I’m very deep in this stuff. Everybody knows me because I was in the ITF for so long.”
Because of his familiarity with the organisation, Miley feels he can run it better than anyone else if he gets the chance: “I believe I’m the best person to run the ITF but that I’m also best-placed to challenge those in the ITF while also articulating a vision for tennis.
“The ITF presidency is not a non-executive presidency, it’s an executive one. Therefore, the President is a CEO as well, and it’s not just a matter of giving out prizes or making speeches. It’s also about running the company as well.” What are the challenges facing tennis, then?
“Start at the recreational level,” says Miley. “The issue for tennis — and all sports — is that lifestyles have changed, and people have less time, more choice. Young people in particular.
“In the US, participation has dropped from 24 million to 16.7 million in the last 10 years. Why? We need to adapt the product of tennis to the new needs of the customer. If people have less time, then we need matches which take less time. Participation in Ireland has dropped a little, and you can see in the media that tennis is not as high-profile as it was. We need to make sure that tennis at the recreational level is attracting a lot of people.” Miley identifies “two customers” in tennis: “The person who plays the game and the person who watches the game, and for a sport to succeed you need a lot of people playing the game, particularly young people. They attract sponsors.
“And because people like tennis they want to watch the best players — and that attracts sponsors as well.
“But participation in tennis in the US and western Europe has dropped in recent years, in Asia it’s grown. China is the big market for many sports, and tennis has grown there from 10 million to 20 million in the last 10 years. It’s growing in eastern Europe and, to a slower extent, in Africa, while it’s healthy in South America.
“This isn’t just limited to tennis, either - golf is another sport that isn’t attracting young people, so it’s a social issue. The customer is never wrong, so we need to package tennis differently, we need to promote it better, we need the top players to help us do so. What I’d like to do is to call a summit involving the ATP, WTA, players, agents — all those involved in tennis — and to have it chaired independently.
“What I’d like to do there is to agree 10 things which are good for the industry. That would be a start.”